FOR STUDENTS AND aficionados of architecture, Hong Kong offers a dizzying array of building types, with starkly different styles juxtaposed side-by-side or even within single buildings. While such diversity of architectural typologies is not surprising given Hong Kong’s unique history of competing influences, it is nonetheless unique among world cities in the sheer magnitude at which it has attempted to scale its building projects to an ever-growing population. With the largest of the city’s ubiquitous residential towers housing in excess of 10,000 people, and combined multitower estates holding hundreds of thousands in all, there are few other cities in the world that can match it in terms of sheer verticality and density.
Noriyoshi Ohrai (1935-2015) was a Japanese poster artist and illustrator known for his vivid work that elevated mainstream sci-fi and action tropes into hallucinatory, richly detailed compositions. In addition to his well-known posters for Star Wars and Godzilla, he created promotional artwork for thousands of films from Japan and around the world.
HISTORY, WHETHER THROUGH its presence or its absence, informs the architecture of modern Japan to a much greater degree than it does in many other countries. One one hand, the country’s millennia-long political, religious, and artistic history permeates its architectural culture to a tremendous degree, serving as an endless wellspring of inspiration and guidance for successive generations of architects and designers. On the other, Japanese architecture since 1868 (the beginning of the Meiji era that defines “modern” Japan) and especially since WWII has countless examples of structures that eschew homegrown traditions in favor of European and global styles, with some architects pursuing a specifically futurist and ahistorical aesthetic. The unprecedented building boom of the postwar period saw Japan emerge as a relentlessly forward-looking and technology-oriented society, with emerging megacities expanding at a breakneck pace.
The architectural firm Shinsoken (“New Material Research Laboratory”), founded in 2008 by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and architect Tomoyuki Sakakida, takes as its mission statement the paradox inherent in its name:
Notwithstanding its name, New Material Research Laboratory examines materials from ancient and medieval times and focuses its activities on reinterpreting and reimagining the use of these materials in the present.
Old is New, from Lars Müller Publishers, documents the studio’s impressive body of work from the past 13 years. In texts arranged geometrically alongside a generous spread of interior and exterior photos, the studio’s founders discuss their approach to architecture and design, giving particular attention to the use of old (or even ancient) materials and traditional techniques.
ORIGINALLY FROM NEW Zealand, photographer Cody Ellingham traveled to Tokyo on a scholarship in 2012. He ended up staying for six years, and while exploring the country’s staggeringly vivid and varied cityscapes he began photographing danchi, the massive public housing projects built in the aftermath of WWII. Like many such postwar projects in both the Soviet bloc and Western Europe, danchi took a core utopian vision and expanded it into vast, blocks-long megastructures capable of housing thousands. And, as is also often the case with utopian architecture, the decades since have not always been kind to the buildings themselves and those who depend on them.
ALTHOUGH BY NEARLY any measure the explosive growth of China’s cities in recent decades has been unprecedented in world history, the real growth has not yet even begun: by some estimates, nearly half of all construction worldwide in the next decade will happen in China. But while the sheer scale of the country’s population and infrastructure will necessarily remain part of the discussion, there are signs that the true story of China’s cities in the 21st century will lie in smaller details. Beauty and the East: New Chinese Architecture, out now in Germany from gestalten (with a worldwide release on March 30), focuses on the country’s comparatively smaller-scale architectural projects such as museums, cultural centers, monasteries, and private residences. On the whole, the projects selected for the book represent the nascent Chinese Modernism that has emerged over the past two decades, with features such as raw concrete, whitewashed walls, and floor-to-ceiling windows standing alongside much older structures and forms.
BLUE CROW MEDIA IS a London-based publisher of maps, specializing in modernist and brutalist architecture worldwide. The maps are beautifully designed in a classic-modernist aesthetic, and take particular care in their choice of typefaces. The latter point is especially evident in the numerous bilingual maps, many of which use non-Latin scripts including Cyrillic, Georgian, and Hangul. In these maps, both languages get equal space in the layout, sending a clear message that they are intended for locals as well as tourists.
EVEN IN YEARS without worldwide pandemics, visiting Pyongyang is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for most of the world’s population. But it could be argued that the Pyongyang Architectural Map, the newest such guide from the UK’s Blue Crow Media, is the perfect map for 2020: with travel being such a fraught prospect for the foreseeable future, the role of travel literature (including physical maps) has shifted from supplementing actual journeys to partially or fully supplanting them.